Delete to Lean, and Learn What Happens
From the “Morning Pages”:
Wow, I just noticed, after some first-thing editing, I have cut more than 2000 words from the first collection of included stories (for the under-construction book) through deletion of whole stories and maybe nearly as much by a word or words or whole sentences here and there through my repeated editings – now, I believe, on my fourth round of edits. At least this is a good thing, the writing becoming leaner – I can say leaner – and it is frankly remarkable how every time I read a story again I continue to find unnecessary words, almost always words which diminish the clarity of the writing. Meaning if they (those words) were left in the reading experience of a particular story – by the reader – would be diminished .
Four times re-reading the same stories and I continue to find unnecessary words. It’s educational for me as someone who has pretty much always leaned toward the Kerouac-ian theory that what comes flowing out of the un-braked, unedited brain is exactly as it should be – the real stuff. This thinking in contrast to John Gardner, another favorite, who states the author’s duty is to present “a vivid and continuous dream”, and this is primarily accomplished through word choice. Gardner generally writes and so discusses the writing of fiction, and my book I have now edited four times features primarily non-fiction pieces. But his words and instructions feel exactly relevant. Don’t write anything, anything at all, which distracts the reader from moving right along (in their reading). Hopefully, oh by the way, each sentence and each paragraph encouraging, maybe demanding the reader’s need to have addressed this question: “Then what happens?”
I feel happy I am presently in a place where I see that my stream-of-conscious, unself-edited “This is it” writing can get better. Can be further energized with the deletion of unnecessary words. I am almost to the end again, two stories remain on this fourth go-round, the last of more than 50 stories presently filling the book, offered for entertainment. Soon, in an hour or so after ‘first thing on the computer’ ritual, when I have re-read and leaned-out the remaining two stories, I intend to go all the way back to the “Introduction” and then again on to the first story in the book – which is titled “Once Upon a Time” – and read first paragraphs only, for every one of the fifty plus pieces. I now feel ready to pass on all the other words, the remainder of each tale.
My wife and I have made a date Friday for her to begin the formal process off “Book Editor”.Today, after that hour and a half, all I’m interested in is this: Does the first paragraph grab the reader by the heart, screaming, demanding to know – “Then what happens?”